THE SCIENCE OF PSYCHEDELICS
At a molecular level, psilocybin works on the serotonin system in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between neighbouring nerve cells. It’s often described as the ‘happy chemical’, but in fact there is a complex and poorly understood relationship between serotonin and mood.
Psilocybin sticks to the serotonin 2A receptor – 1 of 14 different types of serotonin receptor found on nerve cells – and appears to induce a state known as plasticity, where systems and pathways in the brain can be reset. A principal system affected by psilocybin is the default mode network, which is involved in higher-level conscious functions including our sense of self (ego) and the story we construct about our identity and place in the world.
Depression is characterised by entrenched, intrusive thought patterns, reflected by abnormal activity in the default mode network. Under the influence of psilocybin, this network seems to temporarily dissolve and break down, leading to a loss of self-identity and a strong sense of interconnectedness with the rest of the world. It literally opens the mind.
By breaking down these embedded systems and allowing them to reform in a new way, psilocybin can help to ‘reset’ the brain. This could provide a way for people to break free from their depression and move towards healthier thought patterns.